dactylitis

Well, this is a swell word, something you can really get your fingers on. And it is, in its way, handy – for one thing, it has some resemblance to a hand: the tyliti really makes me think of a thumb (t) joined (y) to four fingers (liti). I can add that, as it has four syllables, it has three “joints” – just like a finger. Of course, that also means that rhythmically it is not a dactyl: rather, it’s two trochees.

Is this word related to pterodactyl? It is! An experienced word taster (such as you, dear reader, likely are) will know the Greek building blocks involved. Ptero uses the root pter “wing” as in helicopter (helico “spiral” pter “wing”) along with dactyl. And dactyl, also seen in dactylography, syndactyly, and some others, means “finger”. And itis? Why, as in laryngitis and all those other wonderful itises. Oh, geez, they’re swell. Ing. Swelling. So, yup, dactylitis is swollen finger(s). Or, as it happens, toe(s).

Do you reckon you might get dactylitis from typing something like helicopterodactylitis (swelling of the spiral wing finger, what ever that is) or some other sesquipedalian confection? Hmm, well, it’s true that dactylitis does sound somewhat like typing at a keyboard – on a digital computer, as it happens (though it also reminds me of the Lithuanian family name Akalaitis, as in JoAnne Akalaitis, noted New York theatre director and one of Philip Glass’s several ex-wives – hmm, it also sounds a little bit like a Philip Glass piece, dactylitis dactylitis dactylitis dactyli dactyli dactyli etc.). But the condition doesn’t generally come from overuse. Its main connection to helicopterodactylitis is that both stuff too much into one space.

‘Cause let me tell you, when we say swollen finger (or digit), we mean it. The common name for dactylitis is sausage digit(s) or sausage finger(s). No, I’m not joking. When your finger swells up like that, it looks like a sausage. That might sound amusing, but you sure wouldn’t be so tickled if it were your digits. It is a possible effect of psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis (now there’s another one we’ll need to taste), sickle-cell disease, and some infectious conditions, including tuberculosis and leprosy.

And when you have it, the odds of your clacking away on the keyboard are not so high. Your fingers will have a hard time making dactylitis – by typing or writing, or even resemblance, since those letters are fairly thin. Unless you do them in bold Comic Sans: tyliti. Oh, that doesn’t look pleasant either, does it…

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